Expats: How To Select An International School

Moving to a new job, a new town, a new country – effectively a new life – is challenging. Add in the fear and guilt that you are disrupting your children’s lives, that they may struggle to adapt, and your anxiety and stress levels soar.

By Fiona Hodgkins

Although local schools offer the best opportunity to learn the local language, as well as experiencing the indigenous culture and lifestyle, most expat parents opt for the more familiar experience, and more expensive option of international schools.

For many expats the safest option is a British school following the UK’s National Curriculum, leading to GCSEs and A Levels. If your life plan is just a short stint in a particular country or children boarding in the UK once they are old enough or progressing to a UK university, then the ‘gold standard’ of a British system is advisable.

International Baccalaureate schools are an alternative but the breadth and rigour of the IB is generally designed for the brightest and most confident of children. If you expect your career to drift towards the USA there are plenty of American schools on offer.

The key principle, whether you are selecting a school for your child in Amsterdam or Amersham, is to select the best school for your child, not the ‘best’ school. Bright children may not be stretched in a reassuringly supportive school with a wonderful array of activities and expeditions but moderate academic expectations. Equally, average ability children usually lose confidence in an academic hothouse environment, even though the school’s inspection reports and examination results are outstanding. It really is a matter of horses for courses.

Frustrating rush-­‐hour school runs in congested cities such as Bangkok, Dubai and Mumbai can waste many hours. Identify a potential school before you start looking for that perfect home. Lengthy school runs, particularly early starts for sleepy teenagers, can detract from learning.

Take every available opportunity to learn about the schools. Try to visit the school more than just once. As well as a formal tour, look to fit in another visit to a play, a concert or sporting fixtures, giving you the opportunity to assess atmosphere and ethos, care and enthusiasm. Click through on the website to the minutiae, access inspection reports, and (critically) read parents’ reviews.

Nowadays, we are all connected; you’re just a couple of phone calls away from someone who sent their child to that school.

Every child has something that they excel at. Providing continuity for their clarinet playing or budding rugby career is important, make sure that the school or an out-­‐of-­‐school club can meet that need, giving them the opportunity to settle in and importantly to make like-­‐minded friends.

For most expat children, their time in an international school is life enhancing. The schools usually employ second- or third-post teachers, experienced and adventurous, looking for an exciting challenge. In addition, any school abroad, local or international, leads to cross cultural experiences.  Learning, playing and socialising with children from different nations is a mind-­‐ expanding experience for most children. They are exposed to a diversity of challenges and concepts, which enable them to develop as a young person.

As parents you have to do your homework, not just researching and judging schools, but honestly and realistically assessing which school is the best fit for your children. As someone who has done this numerous times with my own children, I know that this is no mean feat and sometimes it is prudent to seek professional advice -­‐  this may simply reinforce your thinking or help you look at choices in a different way.

If you choose this route, just ensure you choose an educational consultancy which does not take commission from schools; only charges you for the information you require (rather than full packages that you may not want); and fully explains to you the basis of their advice, so that the ultimate decision is yours, based on all your research, and not someone else dictating to you.

Remember, this is an exciting time for you and your family, and you want to have done all you can on the educational front to make it work.

  • Fiona Hodgkins is co-founder of Didicimus Education LLP in Singapore., which caters for the educational needs of expatriate families